Category Archives: Country Houses

Back from the brink

Barlaston Hall, Staffordshire

Barlaston Hall, in the Trent valley south of Stoke-on-Trent, is now a very desirable residence, but until Marcus Binney and his colleagues at SAVE Britain’s Heritage became involved in the early 1980s there was every chance that the house would fall down before it could be knocked down.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage arose from the European Architectural Heritage Year project in 1975, and has an impressive track record in making a difference to the fate of British historic buildings, particularly when there’s a need to break an impasse. 

As Marcus Binney relates in Our Vanishing Heritage (Arlington 1984), the group took up the challenge to buy the wrecked house for £1, in order to take control of and release funds for a seemingly intractable conservation problem.

Barlaston Hall was built for a Leek attorney, Thomas Mills, on a virgin site next to Barlaston parish church in the period 1756-8.

It’s generally agreed, despite the lack of documentary evidence, that the house is the work of Sir Robert Taylor (1714-88).  The distinctive octagonal and diamond glazing bars are his signature, for instance, though he probably delegated on-site oversight to a local builder, perhaps Charles Cope Trubshaw who rebuilt the nave of Barlaston parish church in 1762.

The house is designed in the Palladian manner, of brick with stone dressings, with the principal piano nobile storey sitting on a stone-built “rustic” floor but without the customary giant portico or side pavilions.  The rectangular plan is varied by projecting bays – rectangular on the east entrance front, three-sided on the north and south sides and on the west, garden front an elliptical bay reached by an imposing curved double stair. 

The interior planning is clever and compact.  The walls of the central stair-hall carry all the chimney-flues, so that each of the surrounding principal rooms has maximum light. 

The plasterwork is fine, particularly the rococo overmantels of the north and south rooms, rich with scrollwork, grapes and vines, and the Chinese Chippendale staircase is innovative, cantilevered with wrought-iron bars in zigzag formation concealed within the treads.

As a result of a rumoured comment by either the Duke of Sutherland (“damned ugly”) or his Duchess (“vulgar”), it was enveloped in stucco until, during the Second World War, it was stripped back to the brickwork to deprive enemy pilots of a landmark leading to nearby industry.

Thomas Mills’ successors lived at Barlaston until 1868, after which they let it to a succession of tenants, and eventually tried unsuccessfully to sell it shortly before the First World War.

Between the wars the house was used as a diocesan retreat until Josiah Wedgwood & Sons purchased the estate in order to relocate its factory from Etruria in 1937. 

For a time after the Second World War the Wedgwood Memorial College occupied Barlaston Hall until dry rot forced a move to other premises in the village in 1949. 

Thereafter the building was steadily neglected, and when the National Coal Board proposed mining beneath it in 1968 it had become a dangerous eyesore, standing across a fault in an area that was expected to sink by up to forty feet over a period of years.

The Wedgwood company desperately wanted to be rid of the building, which was listed Grade I as a result of a conservation campaign led by SAVE Britain’s Heritage.  When SAVE took it on in 1981 the house required a new roof as well as stabilisation against subsidence before the damp and derelict interior could be restored.

In 1992 the weatherproof, structurally sound shell was sold to James and Carol Hall for £300,000 for restoration as a single dwelling.  They calculated on spending an equivalent amount alongside an English Heritage grant of £269,342 as a 75% contribution to the restoration of the rococo plasterwork, the staircase and joinery. 

By 2003 the Halls were fully in residence and able to show the house to groups of interested members of the public.

The house was once again offered for sale in 2015.

Enterprising potter

Etruria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) triumphed magnificently over adversity. 

He lost his father when he was nine, and at the age of eleven smallpox left him with a permanently weakened right knee so that he couldn’t become a thrower.  This did, however, enable him to explore the various skills of the pottery trade and gave him the freedom to question and experiment with established practices.

By the age of nineteen he had invented an improved green glaze, become a master-potter and leased a pottery in Burslem with his cousins, John and Thomas Wedgwood.

His business soon outgrew these facilities, largely because of his personal energy, his multiplicity of skills and his adventurousness both as a designer and a businessman. 

He was more prepared than any of his competitors to try new methods.  He insisted on a clean, tidy working environment and his products had a better finish and more shapely proportions – and, indeed, uniformity of size – compared with the rest of the market.

In 1765 he was appointed the Queen’s Potter, and contributed £500 towards new roads in the Potteries area, the first step in a lifelong campaign to gain secure, rapid transport facilities for his precious and fragile wares, which led to his association with the Trent & Mersey Canal, opened in 1777.

Two years later, with his second cousin Thomas, he acquired the site which became his Etruria Works, and the following year invited Thomas Bentley, a merchant with wide experience of the fashionable world, into the partnership.

Wedgwood was a member of the influential group of Midlands intellectuals known as the Lunar Society (because they met and exchanged ideas on the Monday nearest the full moon), including Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) and James Watt (1736-1819).

In 1764 he had married his third cousin, Sarah Wedgwood (1734-1815), and their eldest child, Susannah (1765-1817), married Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848), the son of Erasmus Darwin:  their son was the famous naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), who in turn married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood (1808-1896).

On May 28th 1768, Josiah Wedgwood had his right leg amputated, “foreseeing,” according to the Dictionary of National Biography, “that this useless and often painful member would prove a serious encumbrance in his enlarged sphere of work at Etruria”. 

Etruria Works was opened in June 1769, and by 1773 he had centralised all his operations there. 

The name Etruria refers to the kingdom of central Italy that preceded the Roman republic and connects Wedgwood’s designs with the Etruscans’ elegant pottery.  In fact, the antique pottery so much admired by Wedgwood’s clients ultimately proved to be Greek.

As befitted Wedgwood’s reputation for manufacturing beautiful ceramics, his works was tastefully designed by the Derby architect Joseph Pickford.  The central range, facing the canal, surmounted by a cupola containing a bell, was flanked by two roundhouses.  The northern roundhouse is the only surviving structure of the entire complex. 

By the mid-1760s he had, by shrewdly using recent developments in ceramic technology, perfected the first of a series of innovations – his cream-ware named, by permission, Queen’s Ware, which was followed by Egyptian Black (sometimes known as basalts, first sold in 1768), marble-ware and eventually his jasper-ware, which could be tinted in a variety of colours, of which the pale blue is more familiar than the alternatives dark blue, lilac, sage green, black and yellow, and pearlware, a form of creamware with a blue tint.

His exports included a dinner-service of of 952 pieces for the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, which cost over £2,000 after its decoration with 1,244 individual views of British landscapes and great houses.  Known as the Frog service from its enamel emblem, this unique commission was exhibited, with admission by ticket, at Wedgwood’s London showroom before dispatch in June 1774. 

The family residence, Etruria Hall (1768-71), was designed by Joseph Pickford.  It was screened from the works by a plantation, and because Josiah and Sarah Wedgwood’s family continued to increase two wings were added in 1780. 

The relationship between the works and the owner’s residence is reminiscent of Matthew Boulton’s Soho House in Birmingham and Sir Richard Arkwright’s Willersley Castle in Derbyshire. 

The Wedgwood family continued to occupy the Hall until 1819, and again from 1828 to 1842.  From 1848, it was associated with the nearby Shelton Ironworks until the 1980s, by which time it was used as offices by British Steel.

When the surrounding area was reclaimed for the 1986 Stoke National Garden Festival, the Hall was restored to its eighteenth-century appearance as the centrepiece of the site, and in the following years it was incorporated into a new hotel.

The Heineken effect

Chapel of St Peter, Alton Towers, Staffordshire

I like my tours to include the “Heineken effect”, reaching the parts that other tours don’t reach.

I was particularly pleased when a professional architect guest on my ‘Pugin and the Gothic Revival’ tour in September 2019 remarked that he’d been on a previous Pugin tour but I’d taken him to two places he’d never visited before.

One was Alton Castle, normally inaccessible to the public because its use as a retreat for Catholic school pupils involves strict safeguarding rules. We were allowed an hour between school groups departing and arriving to see Pugin’s interiors.

The other was the spectacular Chapel in the ruins of the house at Alton Towers.

I’d never seen this space, and thanks to the theme park’s Corporate Events team we were able to visit another rarely accessible Pugin interior.

The chapel was designed in 1832-33 by Thomas Fradgley, Joseph Ireland and Joseph Potter of Lichfield for the devout Catholic 16th Earl of Shrewsbury.  The nave is 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 60 feet high.  It has a slender tower with ogee windows and pinnacles that were reduced in height in the 1950s.

Augustus Welby Pugin brightened the Chapel in 1839-40 with carved and painted panels, some of medieval date from Magdalen College, Oxford – and a new reredos and altar. 

Later, in 1850, he decorated the previously plain ceiling in blue, red and gold and added a frieze with Latin texts painted on canvas. 

The angels on the roof corbels are plaster (which Pugin would be unlikely to have countenanced) but after he had designed the reredos and altar screen in 1839-40 he is known to have been “fixing figures in the chapel gallery” in 1840 and supervised the decoration of the ceiling between 1849 and 1851.

The sixteenth Earl inherited a personal estate of £400,000 from his uncle.  At one point he was spending £20,000 a year on building and restoring churches across his many estates.

When he died in 1852 the title passed to his invalid nephew, Bertram, who himself died without an heir four years later.  At his death the estate amounted to some 50,000 acres, the income from which was in excess of £50,000.

There followed a legal dispute about the succession of the titles and estates, in the course of which the contents of Alton Towers were auctioned over a period of a twenty-nine days in 1857. 

The property eventually passed to a distant Protestant member of the family, Henry, Earl Talbot of Ingestre, who became the 18th Earl of Shrewsbury.

The altar and reredos were removed in 1860 from the Chapel to St Peter’s Catholic Church, Bromsgrove where they remain;  most of the other Pugin work was stripped out in 1951 and only fragments remain.

The eighteenth Earl was the first to open the gardens to the public in 1860.  By the 1890s the annual August grand fêtes were attracting crowds of up to 30,000, mainly brought by train to Alton station.

His grandson, the twentieth Earl, died in 1921, and three years later the Alton Towers estate was sold to a business consortium, Alton Towers Ltd, which ran the estate as a tourist attraction and place of entertainment until the War. 

The house was requisitioned as an Officer Cadet Training Unit, and when the owners regained possession in 1951 the dilapidations were such that they chose to strip almost the entire interior of lead roofs and internal timber. 

The grounds were reopened to the public in 1952. 

From 1958 to 1993 the Chapel interior was obscured by a tented ceiling, beneath which spread a gigantic model railway.

In the late 1970s installing concrete floors and wooden stairs within the Towers ruins enabled visitors to appreciate the scale of the house from a variety of levels up to the roof. 

The collapse of a beam on to the Chapel floor in 1993 prompted a full structural and decorative restoration of the ceiling in 1994.

Since the late 1990s further conservation programmes have restored some parts of this exceptional building, but the owners’ priority is inevitably to encourage visitors looking for thrills and spills on amusement-park attractions.

I was particularly grateful to the Alton Towers management for allowing my tour-group to see parts of the ruins that other groups can’t reach.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2019 ‘Pugin and the Gothic Revival’ tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Elsecar

Reform Row, Elsecar, South Yorkshire

The coal mining industry created many industrial settlements across Britain, simply because coal was often found in places where there were few inhabitants.

Few of them are as elegant as Elsecar, the mining village of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, which stands in an area where the Barnsley seam could be anything up to nine feet thick and below it the Silkstone seam, up to six feet thick. 

The “black diamonds” were mined on behalf of the Marquis of Rockingham from before 1750.

When the Dearne & Dove Canal was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1793 two branches, each leading to feeder reservoirs, were provided to Worsborough and Elsecar. 

Lord Rockingham’s successor, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, opened the Elsecar New Colliery in 1795, and the branch canal reached the colliery site shortly after 1799. 

The village was subsequently laid out as a model of good practice and enlightened self-interest by a dynasty of aristocratic coal-owners who, while very much of their time in their attitudes to – for instance – trade unionism, seem to have taken a sincere, paternalistic interest in their employees. 

The sturdy stone rows of cottages, Old Row (1798), Station Row (1800), Meadow Row (c1803), Reform Row (1837) and Cobcar Terrace (1860), are solidly constructed, functional and visually attractive.  Like many buildings of the period on the Wentworth Woodhouse estate the first two terraces in Elsecar were designed by John Carr of York. 

Vegetable gardens and pig-sties were standard, and at Cobcar Terrace separate wash-houses were provided.  Rents were slightly higher than in other nearby settlements, but there seems to have been little difficulty in attracting workers to this relatively isolated spot. 

In 1850 the fifth Earl opened the distinctive and attractive Model Boarding House to attract young single miners from neighbouring coalfields:  this building housed Elsecar’s first fitted bath and hot-water geyser.

Apart from coal-mining, Elsecar has had other industrial enterprises, none of them so consistently successful.  There were two ironworks, the Elsecar Ironworks (opened in 1795 with the New Colliery) and Milton Ironworks (1803), and a short-lived tar-manufactory which gave its name to Distillery Row

The Elsecar Workshops (1859) provided the ironworks and collieries with everything “…new as regards iron and woodwork and the greater proportion of the repairs required for coal and iron mines, and all machinery, iron and heavy woodwork on the whole Estate particularly steam engines…”.

The Fitzwilliam estate provided all the substantial public buildings in the village – the Church Day School (1836;  closed 1852 but still forming part of Distillery Side Cottages), the Elsecar Steam Flour Mill (1841-2), Holy Trinity Parish Church (1843), the Gas Works (1857, behind Old Row, now demolished except for the Manager’s House), and the Market Hall (1870, renamed Milton Hall after alterations, 1922).

The South Yorkshire Railway reached Elsecar in 1850, vastly widening the available markets. 

Amidst the rows of coal-wagons and the bustle of shunting, one strange feature underlined the intimate relationship between the colliery and its owners – Earl Fitzwilliam’s private railway-station (1870), which still stands in the middle of the village virtually next to the mine, from which would set forth the Earl, his family and guests in their special railway carriage, having travelled by horse-drawn coach from the Palladian splendours of Wentworth Woodhouse.

In the years since the mining industry went into decline, Elsecar has reinvented itself as a tourist site, based around the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which incorporates Earl Fitzwilliam’s private station, the Elsecar Heritage Railway and the only surviving in situ Newcomen pumping engine in the world.

Wentworth Village

Rockingham Arms, Wentworth, South Yorkshire

The estate village of Wentworth stretches west from the boundary wall of the park to beyond the two parish churches

Most of the buildings date from the time of the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (inherited 1782, died 1833) and his successors, but the site and the medieval church are ancient.  At least two of the structures in the village contain evidence of pre-eighteenth-century construction – the timber-framed Ivy Cottage (possibly late-sixteenth century) and West Hall Fold (possibly seventeenth-century). 

Most of the houses and cottages in the village are vernacular in style, sturdily built in the local sandstone.  Green paintwork remains the clearest sign still that the dwellings share a common owner.

The more distinctive buildings include the two public houses, one of them called the Rockingham Arms, the other – the George & Dragon – providing space for the market and the annual tenants’ “feast” or fair.  There is a group of almshouses which included the boys’ school (1716), a girls’ and infants’ school (1837) and a Mechanics’ Institute or Christian working-men’s club in castellated Gothic.

Until the 8th Earl vacated the Mansion in 1949, the village of Wentworth was entirely dependent on the Fitzwilliam Estate:  only one other freeholder, Mr Pole the grocer, built in the village, and he sold his three cottages to the Estate early in the twentieth century. 

In its heyday the Fitzwilliam Estate was the dominant employer, not only in Wentworth but also in the surrounding villages of Elsecar, Nether Haugh, Scholes and Thorpe Hesley. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the family are said to have employed roughly the same number of workers – about a hundred – in the mansion and home farm as they did in their coal mines.  Later their mineral interests became far more extensive, though up to the Second World War the house still needed sixty staff to operate.  The ancillary functions of the estate yard and timber yard continued into the 1970s.

The 10th Earl, knowing that the title would die with him for lack of a male heir, established the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust to take care of the village “for the benefit of the public, and in particular the inhabitants of the Parish” after his death in 1979.

By this means Wentworth remains an attractive place to visit, and an enviable place to live.

For your tomorrow we gave our today

Fountains Hall, North Yorkshire: memorial to Elizabeth and Charles Vyner

Fountains Hall is a quirky Jacobean house, built into a steep hillside, probably to a design by Robert Smythson, on the edge of the precinct of the medieval Fountains Abbey.  Indeed, its stones came from the Abbey, plundered by the builder, the unlikeable Stephen Proctor, in the first decade of the seventeenth century. 

Periods of neglect in its long history kept it intact and charming.  In the late 1920s it was renovated by Commander Clare and Lady Doris Vyner and during the Second World War the house was used to accommodate evacuees.

The Vyners’ daughter Elizabeth joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service and died of lethargic encephalitis, or sleeping sickness, aged eighteen, on June 3rd 1942.  Her death reminds us that not all the victims of war die by enemy action, but for their loved ones the loss is as great and the grief no less hard to bear.

Elizabeth Vyner’s younger brother, Charles De Grey Vyner, served as a pilot in the Royal Naval Reserve, and was reported missing in action when his plane crashed into the sea off Rangoon on May 2nd 1945.  He was nineteen.

Word reached his family on May 12th.  After the euphoria of VE Day on the 8th there could hardly have been a more cruel blow.

After the War Elizabeth and Charles’ parents erected a memorial, poignantly placed above the main door of the Hall, a stained-glass window flanked by carved figures of brother and sister in uniform.  It was designed by John Seely and Paul Paget and was unveiled on April 9th 1953 by Elizabeth’s godmother, after whom she was named, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The memorial is visible only to visitors leaving the house, unless on entering they reach the top of the stairs and turn. 

Its inscription reads, “When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today.  From this their home, they went forth to war.”

Muscular Gothic

Bestwood Lodge, Nottinghamshire

On my 2019 ‘Pugin and the Gothic Revival’ tour, we took a lunch stop, between the parish church of St Mary, Derby and St Barnabas’ Cathedral, Nottingham, at the astonishing Bestwood Lodge, now a Best Western hotel:  https://www.bestwoodlodgehotel.co.uk.

Dropping Bestwood Lodge into a tour themed around the work of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was, as Londoners would say, “’avin’ a larf”.

The architect for this extravaganza was Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812-1873), who after twenty years of steady work within the mainstream of the Gothic Revival was beginning to take the theoretical principles of Pugin and Scott to extremes.  He appears to have decided that the time and the market had arrived for him to throw stylistic caution to the wind and build aggressively.  Some modern writers have labelled this style “muscular Gothic”.

Teulon’s client was William Beauclerk, 10th Duke of St Albans (1840-1898), who had the vestiges of a medieval hunting lodge removed to make way for a completely new and quite startling country retreat, in Nottingham pressed brick with Mansfield stone dressings vigorously carved by the Nottingham-born sculptor Thomas Earp (1828-1893).

The house stands high on a defined level terrace;  its gables, dormers, chimneys and spires give it a lively skyline and its elevations bristle with a succession of varied bays, turrets and buttresses.

The main porch is a weird collection of Gothic ingredients – vaulting supporting an oriel, flying buttresses at right angles to each other and quirky pinnacles set diagonally.  Carvings of Robin Hood and his merry men peer down from this bizarre composition. 

The wing to the left of the entrance looks for all the world like a chapel but was designed originally – to the expressed disapproval of the ultra-orthodox Ecclesiologist – as the servants’ hall.  Later on it did in fact become a chapel.

The most impressive interior space is the central hall, top-lit by an octagonal lantern, its Gothic arcading almost certainly modified by a later owner.  The heavy stepped fireplace shows how far Teulon was prepared to squash, stretch and distort orthodox Gothic forms.  It seems not to have harmed his commercial prospects;  Pevsner relates that it was on the recommendation of his work at Bestwood that he was invited to work at Sandringham.

The tenth Duke’s friendship with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, brought numerous royal visits, sometimes incognito:  the Prince and Princess of Wales stayed at Bestwood for the opening of the Castle Museum in 1878, and Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, visited when he opened University College in 1881.

After the death of the tenth Duke in 1898 the house was leased for long periods while his son, Charles, 11th Duke (1870-1934) was confined to an asylum.  It was finally vacated when the estate was sold to pay the eleventh Duke’s death duties in 1938. 

The purchaser was Sir Harold Bowden, 2nd Bt (1880-1960), chairman of the Raleigh Bicycle Company.  The house was first requisitioned and later purchased by the Army for headquarters, and became a hotel in the 1970s.

Pugin would have loathed it.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2019 ‘Pugin and the Gothic Revival’ tour, with text, photographs and a reading list includes a section on Bestwood Lodge and is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Soi-disant castle

Willersley Castle, Derbyshire

Maureen, one of my regular Interesting Times tour-guests, has alerted me to the sale of Willersley Castle, which we visited for lunch on our ‘Derbyshire Derwent Valley’ tour:  https://christianguild.co.uk/willersley.

It operated as a Christian Guild holiday hotel until the coronavirus pandemic forced its closure.  The owners have now decided not to reopen:  https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/local-news/stunning-castle-hotel-derbyshire-go-4309370.

Its main claim to fame is that it was to be the residence of the great cotton-spinning inventor, Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-1792), whose pioneering mills lie out of sight within fifteen minutes’ walk of the front door.

Mr Arkwright, as he was until he was knighted in 1786, chose Cromford as the site for his first water-powered factory, which he opened in 1771.  He resided at Rock House, tucked on a hill even nearer to the mills but on the other side of the River Derwent.  He sought to balance the practical necessity of keeping an eye on the works and workers with the amenities he considered suited to his increasing wealth.

To call Willersley a castle is stretching the definition.  Designed initially by the little-known William Thomas [https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/william-thomas-216451], it’s an essentially classical house with battlements and turrets.  John Byng, later Viscount Torrington, famously described it as “an effort of inconvenient ill taste”.

When he visited in 1789 Byng was scathing about the location, screened from sight of the Mill by a high cliff, overlooking a bend in the River Derwent:

…really he has made a happy choice of ground, for by sticking it up on an unsafe bank, he contrives to overlook, not see, the beauties of the river, and the surrounding scenery.  It is the house of an overseer surveying the works, not of a gentleman…But light come, light go, Sir Richard has honourably made his great fortune and so let him still live in a great cotton mill!

The following year Torrington revisited Cromford and inspected the partly-completed interior of Arkwright’s mansion:

…built so high as to overlook every beauty, and to catch every wind;  the approach is dangerous;  the ceilings are of gew-gaw fret work;  the small circular staircase…is so dark and narrow, that people cannot pass each other;  I ask’d a workman if there was a library?– Yes, answer’d he, at the foot of the stairs.  Its dimensions are 15 feet square;  (a small counting house;) and having the perpendicular lime stone rock within 4 yards, it is too dark to read or write in without a candle!  There is likewise a music room;  this is upstairs, is 18 feet square, and will have a large organ in it:  what a scheme!  What confinement!  At Clapham they can produce nothing equal to this, where ground is sold by the yard…

The Castle was damaged by fire in 1791, shortly before Sir Richard Arkwright’s death, and his son, the banker Richard Arkwright II, commissioned Thomas Gardner of Uttoxeter to rebuild and improve the house.

The finest feature of the interior is the oval hall, which borrows light from the roof to enhance what William Thomas intended to be the main staircase.  Other elegant rooms with fireplaces remain.

The Arkwright family lived at Willersley until 1922, long after they’d abandoned the mills.

The Methodist Guild opened it as a Christian hotel in 1928, and it has remained a holiday retreat ever since, except during the Second World War when the Salvation Army operated it as a maternity home.

Now its future is uncertain, threatened by the economic impact of the pandemic. 

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 The Derbyshire Derwent Valley tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Cinderella House

Grainsby Hall, Lincolnshire (1968)

A chance feature in Lincolnshire Life in 1968 led me on my Lincolnshire Road Car Company staff bus-pass to another remote country house not far from Cadeby Hall – the Italianate fantasy of Grainsby Hall, which clearly bemused Henry Thorold in his Lincolnshire Houses book and was dismissed by Pevsner as “crazy”.

I didn’t think the place at all crazy;  in fact, I rather liked it.

It was wilfully asymmetrical, with a tower over the entrance portico and lots of stark plate glass windows which, in 1968, were largely intact.

When I revisited by car a couple of years later, the windows – and, I think, the door – had gone and I was free to take pictures of the shattered and clearly dangerous interior, which included a grand octagonal drawing room and a massive galleried staircase hall.

This Italianate confectionery dated from 1860 and was built around an earlier, eighteenth-century house.

The Haigh family has owned the Grainsby estate since it came to William Haigh of Norland, Halifax, by marriage in 1827.  In the nineteenth century the family owned the Garden Street Mill in Halifax.

The Hall must have been a splendid place but it was occupied by the military during World War II and fell into disrepair.

For a time it was used as a grain store, until it became dangerous.

It quickly became beyond saving, even between the dates of my two visits, and it was duly demolished in February 1973.

The c1820 stable block remains and is listed Grade II.

Sleeping beauty house

Cadeby Hall, Lincolnshire (1982)

I recently read Henry Thorold’s Lincolnshire Houses (Michael Russell 1999), an extensive compendium of domestic buildings in a huge, empty, varied county, ranging from great palaces like Grimsthorpe and Harlaxton to tiny rectories and houses hidden in the Wolds, quite a few of which were built, bought or inherited by Henry Thorold’s relatives over the past four centuries.

It reminded me of when I first got to know Lincolnshire in the late 1960s, working on the buses in Skegness during university vacations, and travelling the county on a quarter-fare staff bus pass.

In those days there was, of course, no easy way to find information about historic buildings in the county, except the local library, the 1964 first edition Pevsner for Lincolnshire, and the periodical Lincolnshire Life.

A few brief paragraphs in Lincolnshire Life alerted me to Cadeby Hall, up in the Wolds near Ludborough, on the way to Grimsby.

Even the later 1979 Pevsner gives the place short shrift – “an early C18 stone front of seven bays and 2½ storeys…inside, a good staircase…at the time of writing derelict…”

The inimitable Henry Thorold calls it “the Sleeping Beauty house par excellence”.

When I first saw it in 1968 it was already derelict, with a ‘Danger Keep Out’ notice on the front door.  At the rear a service wing which I then thought to be Victorian but now know to have been eighteenth century had been demolished.  I didn’t attempt to enter.

The Hall is easily visible from a public footpath but it’s not a place you’d come across on your way anywhere.

I found it again driving round north Lincolnshire in 1982, by which time it had been tidied up and was apparently in use as a shooting lodge.

Now, by the magic of Google, I discover that it has been splendidly refurbished with, on the site of the demolished rear wing, a tactful, decorous neo-Georgian extension:  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4163107.

I’ve no idea who lives there:  they’re lucky, and we’re lucky that they’ve saved a hidden gem.

Cadeby Hall is a private house.